Rehana Maryam Noor

RehanaDirector: Abdullah Mohammed Saad

Released in 2021

Dr Rehana Maryam Noor (Azmeri Haque Badhon) is a medical lecturer at a private college in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She is also a widow, the mother of a young child, and the sole breadwinner in her extended family, which includes aged parents and an unemployed brother.

In the opening scenes of the film, we get the idea that Rehana is the one keeping things together at home. We see her stressful and frustrated attempts to juggle a career and motherhood. The dim, blue lighting, the closeups of Rehana’s face, her limp headscarf and drooping shoulders, the stark and sterile settings of featureless offices, classrooms and the corridors are gloomy and uninviting. There is a sense of heaviness, of claustrophobia and pressure, of walls, both literal and metaphorical, closing in on her. There is also the impression of intense but unacknowledged loneliness. Rehana doesn’t seem to have friends. She has no one to confide in, to talk to. Is this by choice or because of circumstances?

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Imaginur

imaginur

Director: Nik Amir Mustapha

Released in 2023.

Those ciplak headsets! They are supposedly high tech equipment meant to aid in hypnosis, but look like they were purchased at ToysRUs or assembled from old washing machine parts. Perhaps their cheap and flimsy nature is meant to symbolise the fragility of the human body and underline how our physical selves are merely vehicles for the memories and emotions that will survive past the deterioration of flesh, skin and bone? What happens then when even memories fail, as happens in old age, especially to those unfortunate enough to fall victim to dementia?

For Zuhal (woodenly played by Beto Kusyairy), his body and his mind (memories) have betrayed him. And those clunky plastic crowns do nothing to add to the story Imaginur is supposedly telling about this man. They were just a terrible distraction, confirmation of the impression I got that Imaginur is simply a clever idea that the writer (Redza Minhat) and director (Nik Amir Mustapha) did not bother to fully explore because they did not, themselves, fully understand it.Read More »

Lucky Chan-sil

lucky-chan-sil_F_IOF8kDirector: Kim Cho-hee

Released in 2020.

This was a great choice because I nearly picked a Hong Sang-soo film instead and we all know how cheerful those are! Seriously though, I love Hong’s films but I guess I needed something a little more positive.

Nevertheless, Lucky Chan-sil isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It explores the difficulties Korean women face because of sexist societal expectations that prioritise marriage and childbearing over career. These expectations are internalised and this makes for an added sense of failure when 40-year-old film producer Chan-sil (Kim Mal-geum) finds herself suddenly jobless, single and childless following the death of the director she’s worked with for years. Has she thrown away the best years of her life for nothing? Should she have chosen marriage over a career?

Depressed and lonely, Chan-sil attempts to find new meaning in life and in herself. It’s actually what you’d expect of a Hong Sang-soo film, but without his requisite sleazy, sexist male characters.

Although I could feel Chan-sil’s despair, I wasn’t bogged down by it; nor was my sympathy for her complicated by anger at some selfish man treating her like dirt, and the frustration of witnessing her allow him to.

Instead, there are friends, old and new, realistically imperfect and frequently disappointing, but ultimately proving to be the key to surviving life’s trials and realising one’s worth.

My favourite character: the underwear-clad ghost of Leslie Cheung (played with perfect comic timing by Kim Jong-nim). He may truly be a ghost, or he may be a figment of Chan-sil’s imagination — a neat way of showing that what she ultimately needs is simply to forgive and accept herself.

Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors

virginDirector: Hong Sang-soo

Released in 2000.

Similar to the director’s Right Now, Wrong Then, two versions of the story are told, with details changed and/or added in the second version. Neither version throws much light on any of the characters. One man is cheating on his wife; the other is a two-timing bachelor whose initial interest in the female protagonist increases when he discovers that she’s a virgin 🙄 The female MC is the hardest to figure out. She appears merely inexperienced at first, but is subsequently revealed to be somewhat manipulative. Things at home aren’t exactly straightforward either — she seems to have an unconventional (to say the least) relationship with her brother, but her feelings about this are unclear. There are a few borderline rape scenes, but the men are (thankfully) weak pathetic fools who back off before things go too far. Still, it’s not comfortable to watch.

Hill of Freedom

hillDirector: Hong Sang-soo

Released in 2014.

I watched two Hong Sang-soo films today. Both seem to stress that men can be utter shits and not much to look at, yet still find women to love them. The men in the two films are various kinds of yuck. Sorry, but I can’t find a better word to represent the way the male characters suck, hah. The main character in ‘Hill of Freedom’ might be said to be the best of the rotten bunch, but he too turns out to be a miserable weakling. As for the women, they are mostly a pathetic, desperate lot. The writer/director’s films tend to show people at their worst and I can’t stop watching them. Perhaps the utter awfulness of his characters reassures me that I am not alone in having to endure piece of shit humans, that there are just too many of them and so, impossible to avoid, and that I am not the only piece of shit in this world. We are a universal condition.

La Vérité

La VeriteDirector: Koreeda Hirokazu

Released in 2019.

Another excellent film written and directed by Koreeda Hirokazu. It explores the relationship between a mother and daughter, and the space between memory and truth. Juliette Binoche and Catherine Deneuve are wonderful, and so was Ethan Hawke (whom I usually want to smack).

After Life

after-life-11Director: Koreeda Hirokazu

Released in 1999.

In this film, set in a station between life and the afterlife, the dead are given one memory to take with them, the only one they’ll be allowed for all eternity. Which one would you choose?

In the film, the dead are given two days to decide. The admin workers at the station interview the newly deceased about their life, and then design, stage and film the chosen memories. The films are viewed and the dead depart for the hereafter, each with their memory. Nothing else will be recalled.

Frankly, it sounds ghastly, although perhaps it won’t just be about the endless viewing of one short film clip, but more like a permanent feeling of bliss. I won’t reveal more because of spoilers, but I love how the film explores the different ways people come to terms with their lives and how death allows for perspective. There’s much to think about — and I’m sure the film will reveal something new each time it’s viewed (I’m definitely planning on re-watching it). By the way, this is the third film in which Soseki’s Japanese interpretation of ‘I love you’ is referenced, and it doesn’t ever get old, does it?

The Power of Kangwon Province

Director: Hong Sang-soo

Released in 1998.

power2

There’s a poster for this film that has the tagline: ‘Love’s fleeting when most in need’. Whether it’s a translation from the tagline on a Korean poster or it was dreamt up by the distributors of the film’s release in the English-speaking world, it’s pretty stupid and meaningless. The characters in Kangwon Province may need love, but if they only have themselves to blame if love sidesteps their grubby grasp and runs for the hills. A more passive aggressive, cowardly, emotionally-stunted bunch of lost souls has never before been dreamt up! I’m beginning to realise that I’m never going to like the people in Hong Sang-soo’s films, but maybe their lives are just too familiar for me to stop watching.

Still Walking

still walkingDirector: Koreeda Hirokazu

Released in 2008.

This film made me melancholy. Perhaps it’s a sign of me growing old(er). Just like how I sometimes get flashes of anxiety about illness and death. It was painful watching the bickering old husband and wife; the son dreading spending time with his aged parents; the old folk looking forward to seeing him again, not knowing that he and his wife are discussing making their next trip shorter. There’s much more to the story, but I just kept thinking about lonely old age and being forgotten.

(N.B. Abe Hiroshi who was terrible in The Garden of Evening Mists is rather good in this.)

Rent-a-Cat

RentaNeko-CESS

Director: Ogigami Naoko

Released in 2012

Sayoko (Ichikawa Mikako) is a bit of a manic pixie dream girl, but thankfully, there is no tight-arsed male whose world she has to upend or soul she has to save in her adorably quirky way. She does hope for a man though. She wishes to marry and honeymoon in Hawaii, but her loneliness doesn’t take the film down the rom-com route that I expected it to. Instead, what we get is an exploration of the various ways people can feel alone and isolated. Is the cure a cat? Sayoko’s many cats help to plug the hole of loneliness in her life and the lives of those who rent them. But, as the film shows, a cat isn’t a miracle cure, but then again, neither is a man or a dream vacation.